This was my first attempt at a novella. Its working title is The Orphans. It is mostly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
The image on the left was my first bash at a cover. In a series of firsts, here’s its blurb.
Max Matham is a self-employed freelance forensic accountant living in a quiet village in Buckinghamshire. Della Jont is a hard-nosed businesswoman who presses Max into working for her, investigating alleged financial irregularities at an orphanage in East Africa. Max soon finds that some disturbing things are going on at the orphanage, and becomes involved in a set of intriguing events involving orphans, government agencies, witch-doctors, an old university chum and a multinational pharmaceutical company.
From 10 January 2016, I am publishing The Orphans here as a serial in 59 parts; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Seven, scene one: Back to Dar
A week later, I was on my way back to Tanzania; this time as acting head of Knight Trading (Africa) as well as acting Chairman of TanzCap. I hoped there would be no conflict. If there were, then protecting the interests of the orphans would trump both companies’ needs.
Hannice had given me the keys and alarm codes for his house, and left word with Kanene and the walinzi – the machete-wielding guards that patrolled and secured his gate and perimeter – that I would be returning. On arrival at Nocturne, I reported to the walinzi in the gatehouse, so Rex and Prince, Hannice’s father and son German Shepherds, would know that I was entering legitimately and not feel that they should stop me. The two walinzi were keen to learn of bwana Knight’s situation. I was happy to tell them that he was comfortable and doing well, but would need to stay in England for some time. They muttered something about better medicine and went back to their duties as cheerfully as ever. There being no staff other than six walinzi on two shifts, plus Kanene, there was no-one else who needed to know I would be staying there for a while.
Kanene was in the entrance lobby when I arrived.
“How is the master?” she asked, her throwaway tone suggesting that she was asking more out of politeness than real interest or concern.
“Bwana Knight will stay in a hospital in England for some months, but he is getting better,” I replied.
“Sawa – okay,” she nonchalantly replied, and carried on with her work.
I was always tired when I arrived in Tanzania, and this day was no different. I went to my room, unpacked my things, showered and went straight to bed. Early the following morning, while it was still dark outside, I was awakened by the barking of dogs and what sounded like gunfire; and it didn’t seem too far from my window. I slowly eased myself out of bed, dropped to my hands and knees, inched carefully toward the window and peered through the bottom of the blinds towards the gatehouse, afraid to allow my face to appear, in case a gun was pointed in my direction. I could see one of the walinzi with what looked like an army-issue rifle, the other two held their machetes ready for action in one hand and a dog’s lead in the other. Rex and Prince were lunging and barking furiously.
Emboldened, I raised myself to a kneeling position, opened the window and called out in my very best Swahili, “What’s happening?”
“Hamna tabu, mama – no problem, madam,” one of their number shouted back to me. As far as I could make out from what he told me, a group of youths, doubtless high on cheap local beer, had thought it would be fun to drive around the area firing guns into the air. Hannice’s men merely prepared themselves to respond if needed. No shots were fired by them and no-one was hurt. I was very glad to have these guys guarding the entrance and boundaries while I was in the house.
I checked my watch. 2.45am. I closed the window and dived straight back into my bed, wondering how people managed with this kind of excitement on a regular basis. It was a far cry from my little cottage in Buckinghamshire, where visitors complained that they couldn’t sleep because it was just too damned quiet.
Later that morning, once the hands on my watch had hauled themselves around to a place that suggested it was decent to rise and face the world, I dressed and went down for breakfast. Kanene had somehow read my mind and made ham and poached eggs on proper English crumpets. I didn’t know if Hannice had a supply of crumpets, or if Kanene has learned how to make them, but they were good, really good. Armed with that and a couple of shots of espresso, I set to the day’s tasks – organising another board meeting to progress the divestment, and trying to follow up with Paul Jaxson.
There was no dial tone on the house phone. Not a good start. At home, no dial tone meant no internet either. I checked. It meant that here, too. And there was no mobile signal inside the house. I took Hannice’s Land Cruiser and drove to his office where Lindy, his Executive Assistant, knew which telecoms provider Hannice used, and had all the account details. He called through to the provider and arranged for them to look into it urgently. I used his office phone to make the arrangements for a TanzCap board meeting. While I was still there, the telecom provider called back and said that a bullet from the previous night’s revelries had broken the line half a kilometre from Nocturne. They expected to have it working again within twelve hours.
I made a video call to Hannice from his office computer. Part of the reason was to keep him in the loop with everything that was happening, but it also served to allow Lindy to see that he was okay. Hannice was in good spirits.
“Sophie visited earlier,” he said, “which was good. I was feeling quite low; you know, stuck here on my own, can’t even go to the little boys’ room without help. Sophie came in and started talking about how she was coping on her own, and suddenly my troubles diminished a little. Does me a power of good, your Sophie.”
“How’s she doing with the physio?” I asked.
“Really got the hang of it. Doctor Harry says he’s happy for her to fly solo with it now – doesn’t see any need for him to supervise, just check once a week or so to gauge progress. You got hold of Jaxson since your return?”
“I called his office just before calling you. His PA told me that one of Paul’s kids had an accident camping. Nothing life-threatening, but it looks like the poor kid broke his arm. Paul flew to Florida yesterday, as soon as he heard the news. Should be back here in a couple of weeks. Meantime, I’ll push ahead with the board meeting this afternoon. You still on to buy TanzCap’s stake?”
“In principle, yes, but keep that under your hat for the time being, will you? Need to do some due diligence first, and clear it with Papa. Get my London guys on it today.”
Just then, Lindy came in. I told him it would be okay to close the connection once he had finished, and left the office so he could speak to his boss privately. Hannice and I had said what we needed to for the day, and I had to prepare for a 2pm board meeting at TanzCap.